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Blewbury Players

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Outdoor performances are in The Garden Theatre, Orchard Dene House, Blewbury, between Wantage and Streatley.

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Review of The Crucible

17th to 20th July 2019

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

A play for today

Blewbury Players revisit their 1979 production

Blewbury Players: The Crucible, at Orchard Dene Garden Theatre, Blewbury, from Wednesday, July 17, to Saturday, July 20

As director Sebastian Palka says in his note in the programme. The Crucible by Arthur Miller might not be the first play you might think of watching on a balmy summer evening in the beautiful setting of the Orchard Dene Garden Theatre in Blewbury. But, as the sun goes down, the outdoor amphitheatre provides Miller's tale of witchcraft and devilry with a beguiling backdrop against which The Blewbury Players brilliantly "strut and fret their hour out on the stage", to quote another famous playwright.

The stage is worth a mention in itself, being a cleverly-constructed series of asymmetrical tiers, based on the set of the Players’ 1979 production of the play. Its designer Peter Ritson was a pupil of the art teacher at St Birinus School, Didcot, Roy East who created the original, and it happily moves the imagination of the audience from farmhouse to court house to prison house. The story darkens as night falls, with menacing sound effects heralding dark deeds to come and hangman's nooses are illuminated in the trees behind the stage to let everyone know that, if there was ever any doubt, there is going to be no happy ending here.

The Crucible is a part-fictionalised dramatisation of the notorious Salem witch trials held in 1692/3 in colonial Massachusetts, in which more than 200 people were accused and 19 were found guilty and executed (14 women and five men). Arthur Miller wrote it in 1953, when the US government's paranoia over communism was at its height, as a metaphor for the way in which senator George McCarthy accused people in various institutions such as the film industry and the Government of being communist infiltrators and Soviet spies.

In The Crucible, the accusations of witchcraft are led by one Abigail Williams, convincingly played here by Georgia Brennan-Scott, who has a grudge against her former employers and she leads a group of hysterical young girls, wittingly and unwittingly aided by a series of weak, gullible and intolerant clergy and officials, to accuse various villagers of witchcraft. All the members of the cast put in a great performance, but I think special mention should be made of Alex Watts who, as Abigail's erstwhile lover and employer John Proctor, gave a particularly heart-rending account of his life-and-death struggle with his conscience.

Set in a village where many of the houses must have been contemporaneous with the events in Salem, if not older, you can see why The Blewbury Players should want to reprise Miller's iconic play again today, seemingly another era of intolerance, intransigence and the deliberate lying of those in authority on both sides of the political divide. And of the pond.

Most certainly a play for today, polished by some very proficient Players.


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